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What Are Cataracts?

Living with cataracts is like having to look through a haze or fog. A cataract clouds vision as the proteins in the lens clump together. At first it starts out small, affecting only a part of the lens. Changes in vision may not be noticeable in the early stages; meanwhile the cataract is slowly expanding across the lens. The once clear eye lens becomes yellowish or brownish. Eventually the cataract makes it difficult to see as vision becomes blurrier and takes on a brownish tint. If left untreated, this degenerative eye disease will cause blindness.

Cataract Causes & Symptoms

The most common cause of cataracts is age, and they have become one of the leading causes of blindness among adults ages 40 and over in the United States. Some secondary factors that could predispose you to cataracts are:

  • smoking,
  • excessive alcohol use,
  • family history,
  • obesity,
  • chronic disease such as diabetes,
  • excessive use of steroid medications,
  • and too much UV light exposure.

In addition to experiencing blurry or cloudy vision, some other symptoms of cataracts include:

  • excess glare,
  • sensitivity to light,
  • trouble seeing at night,
  • and frequent changes of prescription.

The best way to guard against cataracts and most other eye conditions is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In fact, there are four lifestyle changes you can make to prevent or slow the development of cataracts. While a healthy lifestyle is a smart preventative measure against cataracts, it won’t reverse their effects. There is, unfortunately, no way to “eat or exercise away” cataracts. However, no matter what your age, the sooner you start making healthier lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking and eating foods rich in antioxidants, the better off your vision will be.

Treating Cataracts

Early stages of cataract may be improved with new prescription eyeglasses, anti-glare sunglasses, or brighter lighting. If these options are not helpful, then surgery is an effective option.

Today, cataract surgery, in which cloudy lenses are removed and replaced with synthetic implants, is helping millions of Americans see better than ever before. It is the most common and effective way to treat cataracts when a prescription doesn't help.

The surgeon will remove your clouded lens and replace it with an intraocular lens (IOL) to best address your individual vision needs. This outpatient procedure generally takes about 15 minutes. Recovery time from cataract surgery is usually very short. Some people report clearer vision within 30 minutes of the procedure, but improvement might take weeks for others.

Since a cataract is detected through a comprehensive eye exam, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. You and your eye doctor can discuss your cataract treatment options and come to a decision together.